(USA TODAY) - Manti Te'o might have briefly lied about Lennay Kekua after discovering in early December that his former girlfriend didn't exist, but the pain he felt on Sept. 12 when he was told Kekua had died of cancer was real, the All-American told Katie Couric.
"What I went through was real. The feelings, the pain, the sorrow. That was all real," Te'o said to Couric during his first on-camera interview, an excerpt of which aired on ABC's Nightline early Thursday morning.
Te'o has said to both Couric and ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, who conducted an untelevised interview with the linebacker on Jan. 18, that he had no inkling of the true nature of his relationship with Kekua until Dec. 6, when the person going by that name called to say she was still alive.
Despite the December phone call, Te'o told Schaap he was not totally convinced that Kekua was a hoax until Jan. 16, when one of the alleged perpetrators of the scam, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, called him to confess and apologize.
From September through early January - CBS This Morning ran a piece on Te'o and Kekua on the day of the BCS championship game - the story defined Te'o's season as much as his All-American production as Notre Dame's defensive captain and team leader.
Asked if the publicity the story gave him was "intoxicating," Te'o replied, "I think for me, the only thing I basked in is that I could... I had an impact on people. That people turned to me for inspiration."
In a conversation with Nightline host Dan Harris, Couric said she believes Te'o's "affection for this young woman was very real."
Said Couric, "I think the relationship was really real. I think the pain he felt was very real. He played a voice mail, and it's of a boyfriend and girlfriend."
"Yes, he stayed on the phone with her for hours and hours. He would keep the phone on at night and wake up with the phone on his ear in the morning."
The entire interview will air Thursday on Katie, Couric's syndicated talk show on WZZM 13 at 3:00pm.